By tom Caughlan
I find it very rare that a trail running shoe fits my foot so well, with absolute comfort devoid of irritation, that I forget what I am wearing and simply become lost in the trail. Admittedly, I spend more time thinking about running shoes than just about anyone, so these rare occasions become sought after, and as my feet become more finicky I find this is happening less and less. While I have been a fan of every iteration of the Nike Terra Kiger (review of the first model, review of the Terra Kiger 2), this third version is absolutely my favorite trail shoe of the past two years. Since Nike sent out a pair about a month ago, I’ve worn nothing else for my daily routine regardless of the terrain and conditions.
The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3 ($125) is a fairly major departure from the first two versions of this shoe. When I first saw Zach Miller wearing it on a local run back in April, I was fairly appalled, deciding upon the visual that Nike had ruined the shoe. It looked cumbersome, overbuilt, and heavy. As positive feedback for the shoe began to surface, it rekindled my interest and belief in the Kiger as an ultra-distance shoe. While I really enjoyed the Kiger 2, I couldn’t wear it past 50k on anything more technical than the most buttery singletrack.
While subjectivity reigns, consider that I have reserved this type of praise for very few shoes over the years
Nike adds structure and durability to an already glove-like fit with additional welded overlays and tougher mesh. I’ve heard some complain that this mesh becomes hot in warm temperatures, and honestly I can’t confirm or deny this. The majority of my running in the Kiger 3 has taken place in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and on a lot of snowy trails. Additional improvements include a reinforced heel cup, which adds some structure to the sloppy versions in the past. The Flywire lacing system is a bit more accommodating and I no longer have to cut the Flywire closest to the toe box to decrease pressure. A 5mm-wider toe box is also deeper and generally allows more movement in the forefoot without feeling sloppy on technical sections or downhills. The wider toe box also makes the Kiger 3 feel more stable on cambered or technical trails.
Nike keeps the burrito-wrap tongue and locked-in fit courtesy of the Flywire, but this shoe doesn’t feel confining in the least. I find that I can wear my thickest winter socks and alternate with thin summer racing socks and the feel is still dialed in. The Kiger 3 will definitely accommodate foot swelling from an ultra, and the general feel here is soft but durable, stable but pliable, snug but stretchy
Nike adds high-abrasion carbon rubber around the outside of the outsole which is extremely durable. This helps with edging and cornering in turns, while the softer rubber of the rest of the outsole continues to feel grippy on rocks. Nike deepened the lugs just a bit and added more lugs which improve confidence on loose terrain. There isn’t a lot of ‘float’ here for those who like a bit of downhill slide, as the Kiger 3 really sticks to the terrain unless it is loose or muddy. In those circumstances, the Kiger 3 struggles with shedding mud and clay, but it is certainly not a ‘soft ground’ trail shoe. I enjoyed how the Kiger 3 runs on the roads as well, and the smooth transition makes this an ideal door-to-trail option.
While I trend toward minimalist models, I have struggled in recent years to find a shoe that combines a minimalist, agile feel with the type of protection needed for a long ultra. The Kiger 3 fills this gap and I’ve found that it’s the type of shoe that fits my foot so well I don’t need to think about it. This shoe feels simple on your foot and I think that the fit will impress many people who are craving a wide toe box with a locked-down feel.
There are times when I become overly concerned with cushioning as the singular aspect of comfort for trail shoes during an ultra. However, just as Bryon Powell proved by running the Hardrock 100 in New Balance 1400s, the most important aspect to any trail shoe is how they feel on your foot. For me, the Kiger 3 represents the ideal foot feel, combining adequate proprioception with just enough cushioning to feel protective.